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A True, Smart Cow Story
The Generalization: Cows are Stupid
It is my opinion that the words “intelligence” and “cow” don’t belong in the same sentence. It’s an automatic "oxy-moo-ron." But there are aberrations in pretty much every field...even one in which a cow is grazing.
So the title to this article or essay really goes against how I feel about cows. It’s not that I dislike them. I actually do like cows, but I observed them for my whole childhood and teen years and have concluded that they are not very smart. I don’t really even have stories I can tell about the lack of bovine brainpower. They are just dull, mentally speaking. Instinct and habit get them by for the most part.
The Exception: The Most Intelligent Cow I've Ever Known
But there was at one time a single exception to this generalization of cows.
I grew up on an Indiana dairy farm. The particular breed was holstein. They are the black and white dairy cows, although there is the occasional red and white one which reflects the original color of the breed. But the cow I want to tell you about is of the traditional black and white variety.
Link to the first story--The Second Most Intelligent Cow I Have Ever Known
Prelude to the Main Story
This cow actually had a bit of ingenuity. At one time, for what reason I don’t recall, we were feeding the cows hay by stacking the bails around the perimeter of a flatbed hay wagon. The cows crowded around so that no more could get in to eat. I was nearby working and suddenly heard a loud clomping of split hooves on wood. When I turned and looked, the cow we are discussing had muscled her way up to the wagon and jumped up onto it. She had exclusive access to all the hay she wanted.
Necessary Background Information
To tell you of her most memorable feat of intellectual prowess, I need to describe the physical layout of our milking parlor. I happened to find a good photo of the style of milking parlor we had on the farm.
Each station where a cow was milked had a rear gate and a front gate. The rear gate was opened so the cow could walk into the station. After milking the cow, the front gate would be opened. The opening and closing of the gates was done with a lever [see photo above] which would latch into place so the animal couldn’t get away while being milked. I'm halfway done with this part. Hang in there.
At the front of each station was a feed box. The feed was kept in the upper level of the barn. An eight inch pipe went through the floor down to the feed box. We would fill the pipes with feed and the feed was put into the feed boxes with a hand crank. We would just lift the handle to the crank and pull it down two or three times to put the amount of feed in the box that we needed for each cow. Bear with me.
When we finished milking a cow, we would open the front gate and she would walk out the exit doors of the barn. Two swinging doors, like western style saloon doors would swing out as the cow walked through and then swing back after she went out. Okay, I’m done with that part. Now for the smart cow story.
Smart Cow Story
I’m sure this young cow would lie awake at night thinking of all the feed in that barn, sort of like a bank robber would lie awake thinking of all that money in the bank vault.
The cow approached the saloon style doors. This was her first obstacle. Eventually we were able to observe her in action. She would use her nose to catch an edge of one of the doors and then flip it out and open. Then she would quickly get herself wedged into the doorway and wiggle the rest of the way in.
So she was now in the parlor with the feed behind gates that were latched shut. There were four stations. Using the same technique on the station gates that she used on the barn doors, she would flip the gate until the handle came unlatched.
That done, she cleaned out the feed box. Ingenious, right? But don’t forget all that feed in the pipe coming down from the upper level of the barn. She certainly didn’t forget about it. Remember my description of the hand crank that would let the feed come down through the pipe and into the feed box? She operated it with her nose. But she didn’t simply crank it a couple of times. She discovered that if she only pulled the crank down half a turn, all the feed would empty out of the pipe into the feed box. She would routinely clean out all the feed in all four stations. At least she did until we figured out who the feed thief was.
Just in case you don't believe me, keep in mind that I could have continued the story at this point and had the cow climbing the ladder to the upstairs and refilling all the holes with feed.
One of a Kine....Kind
So there you have it. The exception to the generalization that cows are stupid animals. I'm just glad we didn't have a whole herd of cows like her. I have a feeling my family and I would have been sleeping in the barn.